On Minorities

Historical circumstances have made Romania – before and after the great union of 1918 – a country with various ethnic minorities, some very old: Hungarians, since about the end of the first millennium; Armenians, Gypsies, Greeks, and Germans – since the Middle Ages; Slavs of various nations; and, since about the 18th century, Jews, then Turks, Tartars, and others, some exotic in this area, because in the 18th century Spanish settlers were brought to Banat, and in the 19th century, Swiss, French, and Italians were brought in small communities (as vineyard workers, masonry workers, and others); then Poles came, because they were hunted down following the break-up of their country, and some of their descendants still live here, or have lived here until recently. All this had and important impact on this country's history, but most of all on its culture: these groups, well motivated, generally cultivated, and with a very strong awareness of their identity, have almost always been a very active ferment in the openings that marked the history of art, culture, the evolution of science, education, even of style, and – implicitly – of the material civilization. Due to them, new cultural elements emerged in the 16th-17th centuries: mural painting with reflexes of Byzantine art, due mainly to Greek craftsmen; clothes became western, especially in the 19th century; architecture and interior arts (iron works, stucco, water and heating systems, silverware, and others) owe much to German and Jewish craftsmen who followed the Austrian and Southern German models, and so on. The presence of these craftsmen, doctors, teachers (many French ladies were heads of schools for aristocratic girls in the 19th century), artists, etc., diversified and enriched the Romanian culture, and there was never any question – until late in the inter-war period – of these influences "altering" specific Romanian cultural elements. In this cultural space, intellectuals of very various descents, writers included, were able to distinguish themselves over the years: and readers loved those writers and appreciated their books, and that was not according to their ethnic origin. Because, in most cases, there was no xenophobia, as can be inferred from the memories of the great scientist Moses Gaster, who grew up in cosmopolitan, tolerant Bucharest, and from those of writer Edgar Reichmann, who grew up in a cosmopolitan town, Galati, where children had no problem celebrating the Easter of all religions and denominations. They also recited nationalistic verses by Eminescu, although their names were Metaxa, Abramovici, and the such, because they were all Romanians, and only the "wicked," those who hated this country, were "foreign." This extraordinary cultural melting pot, where the contributions of so many ethnic group blended, with powerful and fertile cultural traditions, was unfortunately destroyed: nationalistic violence and crimes during the war, as well as the post-war years of persecution, made many of these people leave Romania, so we can say the great ethnic groups, going back for centuries in this country, actually disappeared: Germans, Jews, Armenians, Greeks, to say nothing of Italians, or French. But this past still exists, and even its traces are still active, and produce often important consequences; the memory of living together is strong not only in the body an arm was cut from, but also in the cut arm. I had the opportunity to learn, on site, not just that Israeli writers who left continue to write in Romanian, but that their readers continue to read Romanian two, three, or four decades after they left Romania, or that the Saxons and Szecklers who left keep a strong memory of their cultural symbiosis with Romanians, that the beneficial role of interchange is even clearer today, when their source is almost dry, than in the past. In literature at least, the ferment of this living together still stimulates an activity that takes a concrete form in works which are often extremely valuable: the importance, beauty, special character of texts written by Hungarian, German, Jewish, Armenian, Serb, Ukrainian, Turkish, and other writers, are much greater that the numeric weight of these groups would lead you to believe. Their existence here, with us, makes me happy and confident in our common future.

by Mircea Anghelescu